Review: Blue Fence, Pleasance

“How can we help?”

Blue Fence is a play by Heather O’Shea about an artist whose life is drastically affected when she suffers a stroke. Having been commissioned to create a piece of sculpture for the 2012 Olympics, she is forced to reassess her position as her condition renders her a ‘disabled artist’ in the eyes of the authorities, though this isn’t a change she has accepted or identified in herself. Thus we see how she has to change how she relates to others, and to her art, and how they deal with someone newly ‘disabled’ in their lives.

As Claire, Flora Nicholson has clearly put huge effort into creating an authentic physical performance as a woman recovering from a stroke and the painstaking way in which her recovery slowly progresses is expertly portrayed, all credit to Movement Advisor Imogen Knight there. But it is not just about the movement, she shows a woman who is determined from the outset and when forced to channel that frustration into her recovery and dealing with the way the world sees her now, she shows the sacrifices and the single-mindedness that become necessary, but also the painful effect that it can have on personal relationships with family, friends and loved ones as all become accustomed to this new reality.

Around her, Thomas Hunt and Antonia Kinlay play all the supporting characters in Claire’s life with varying degrees of success. Kinlay succeeds the better here at creating 3 clearly defined characters with the minimum of effort, building up a genuine emotional connection as best friend Karen and evoking a world of faceless bureaucrats as funding officer Astrid whose concerns lie mainly with the progress of the project. Hunt fared less well at delineating his three characters, boyfriend Tom was done well but it was sometimes hard to distinguish between him and the others, emotionally distant but eager to help brother Chris with whom he could have done more to establish their relationship and self-interested gallery assistant Benji who ultimately served little purpose in the play other than showing the self-consciousness that can come with having to deal with disabled peoples’ needs.

It is always interesting to see a play which has a direct resonance, last year’s Tribes at the Royal Court was an emotional experience the like of which I’ve never had in a theatre, and the issues around how disability relates to personal identity is something that many people have to deal with. The tricky thing though, and this is alluded to here in Blue Fence but not really explored enough, is that it isn’t an issue that can be dealt with in a single story, every journey is ultimately individual, different disabilities place different pressures on people and even within a single cohort, for want of a better word, there’s a vast variety of experience which kind of precludes any useful extrapolation of Claire’s experience to a wider community (indeed, her final decision went exactly the opposite way of my own choices!)

That is not to deny the effectiveness of much of O’Shea’s writing and the strength of Nicholson’s performance, indeed the point where it ended felt more appropriate for an interval as the development of the central idea there felt like a springboard for continuation and an examination of what it is like to live with that identity once it has been determined. So, probably one to class as a work-in-progress and I would be keen to see it again if/when it is further developed.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 12th March

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